Published: July 13, 2021
Did you know? According to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, while 46% of active-duty service members feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community, only 27% of active-duty families feel the same. The survey illustrated that, while military families feel supported and appreciated, that isn’t translating to belonging. That’s a major problem because military life can be isolating thanks to frequent moves, separations due to deployments or short-term assignments, and being away from extended family.
Katya, an Army spouse and mom of two, understands how hard military life can be. “My husband has been deployed five times,” she shared. “The separations are difficult, and this last deployment has been especially difficult with the pandemic, working full time, and helping kids with their schoolwork. We have also moved five times with the Army. It is always hard to say goodbye to friends. This upcoming move will be really hard, as my kids are at an age where they will miss their friends as well.”
That’s why Katya connected with Blue Star Families. Through Facebook, Katya learned about a Blue Star Families book club called START: Serving, Thriving, and Reading Together, which is designed to bridge the gap between military families and their civilian communities. Vicky Perkins is START’s facilitator. She established the program three years ago when the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Blue Star Families a grant to deliver a total of 23 programs to Blue Star Chapters across the country.
“START is a place where families who serve together can come together and connect with other families in their community,” Vicky said. “And at Blue Star Families, we believe that precious moments and memories are shared around the dinner table. So we tried to create that for our participants by providing them with a hot meal and thoughtful discussion.”
For Katya and her kids, the START program was just the connection they were looking for. “They [my kids] really enjoyed the book club,” Katya said. “I loved that they got to really understand the books they read by discussing them and that we got to meet new families. We have since participated in the Outdoor Explorers for All Club, special celebrations, paint nights, and the adult [START] book club. I love how welcoming everyone is and how educational the programs are. We move so much, and it takes a lot of effort to build meaningful relationships. Blue Star Families, through the book club and their other programs, creates events and an atmosphere to help facilitate the development of relationships that are so important.”
Katya and her kids have gotten so much out of Blue Star Families programs that they wanted to pay it forward. She went on to share, “I decided I needed to help Blue Star Families with their mission to make more people feel the way they made me feel: very welcomed in my community and even across the country as we’ve now participated in virtual events with other Chapters.” So, Katya reached out to her local Blue Star Chapter Director, Karissa, to see how she could get involved. Karissa had recently developed a follow-on book club called Ready, created for those who had completed both of the START book club programs and are now ready to advance their love of reading. She needed a “storylover” to create questions for each book and lead the discussion that follows each reading.
“I was excited to read the books Karissa had selected and come up with questions for the kids,” Katya said. “The kids seem to really enjoy the discussion and come up with very surprising answers sometimes. The conversations allow the families to keep growing together and to develop more meaningful relationships with each other and other families, both military and civilians.”
Why is that so important? Because when families on the home front have local support and connections, service members can focus on the mission. And Katya knows firsthand the impacts of an outlet like the book club program extend far beyond weekly meetings. “I hope the kids continue to have the confidence to express their thoughts even outside of the book club environment,” Katya said. “I hope everyone develops more meaningful relationships and has a feeling of belonging not only in the military community but the civilian community as well. Our family has always leaned on Blue Star Families, especially when my husband is deployed. I hope I can give other families access to that support as well.”
Blue Star Families offers a wide variety of programs, in addition to START and READY, that enhance family life and connect military families with their civilian neighbors. But these programs are only possible because of amazing volunteers like Katya. When people (whether military or civilian) raise their hand in support of military families, we can continue to create strong communities of mutual support together. Want to get involved? Learn how at bluestarfam.org/volunteer.